When it comes to talking about sex, Duke students often end the conversation as prematurely as, well. …
Let’s just say the inaugural version of “One Sexy Week” at Duke is only the beginning of how our community can grow.
From Feb. 3 through Feb. 9, we have the opportunity to attend discussions ranging from “‘Sexotification’: Racial Exoticization and Sexual Stereotyping” and “Enriching Relationships: Thinking About Considering a Sexual Relationship,” to workshops like “I Love Female Orgasm” and a film screening of “The Purity Myth.” There’s also “Sex Myths,” “LGBT 101,” “Sexual Fluidity,” “Practicing Sex Religiously” and a panel on sexuality and disabilities. There will even be free swag (lube, condoms, etc.) handed out to those tenting for the UNC game in K-Ville.
Sophomore Chandler Thomas, a fellow Women’s Center intern, explained to me in an interview how she conceived of the idea for a week devoted to sex-related topics at Duke:
“A lot of the work that I do is associated with the negative aspects of gender violence prevention and everything in that respect. Not only do we need to be focusing on bystander intervention to lower instances of sexual assault, but we also need to have a broader conversation about sexuality and positive sexual decision-making at our school. … It’s all about breaking down taboos, let’s actually have some productive discussions.”
I love both the premise and the planned activities for this week because they’re collaborative, inclusive, provocative and most of all, needed at Duke. Campaigns (Who Needs Feminism?), retreats (Common Ground) and preventive efforts (bystander intervention training) will only be enhanced and aided by a concentrated week of dialogue that cuts across identity factors. Ideally those who identify as male will go to the discussion about contraception and those who identify as straight will go to an LGBT-themed talk.
The critical question is this: How are we going to fight discrimination, oppression and ignorance if we don’t recognize that we are all allies in efforts to make Duke a place in which everyone belongs, regardless of sexual preference, gender identity or cultural difference?
In conducting the (non-field) research for this column, I came across so many aspects of sexuality I’ve never personally encountered. I’ve never had a conversation with someone who is openly asexual, for instance, or talked about bondage and discipline, dominance and submission or sadism and masochism (collectively known as BDSM) with someone who is a member of a kink community. And given that my own perspectives concerning gender norms, sexuality, liberation and space have evolved so much in my time at Duke, I can’t wait to discuss the topics above, and more, in order to influence perceptions, and be influenced.
It’s so easy to label without really exploring the connotations, history and consequences of labels. For instance, I recently began calling myself a “sex positive feminist,” and yet I had absolutely no idea that this term dates back to the 1970s and that there was a so-called “feminist sex wars” between those campaigning against pornography and prostitution and those who identified a different way of fighting oppression. I feel divorced from an entire history.
Ultimately, I found my favorite conception of this perspective described by Clarisse Thorn, a feminism S&M writer, who writes on being sex positive: “Among consenting adults, there is no ‘should.’ The whole idea behind being sex-positive is that we don’t want people to be having—or not having—sex because they feel like they should.” Thorn continues, writing, “My agenda is this: if someone wants to have sex with men, or sex with women, or sex outside marriage, or sex within marriage, or sex with multiple people, or crazy kinky sex, or sex for money, or sex on videotape, or no sex at all … that’s all totally fine, as long as everyone involved feels good about it. My agenda is to frame good sex as something everyone deserves, that everyone can be taught about and trained in, and—more importantly—to convince the rest of the world to see it that way too.”
Other writers put it in a more gender-oriented way, arguing that sexual freedom is a key component of women’s freedom. And still others reject that there’s an all-encompassing definition, but acknowledge that tensions exist between free will and systems of power.
But as Gayle Rubin argued in 1984, “A democratic morality should judge sexual acts by the way partners treat one another, the level of mutual consideration, the presence or absence of coercion and quantity and quality of the pleasures they provide. … Because sexuality in Western societies is so mystified, the wars over it are often fought at oblique angles, aimed at phony targets, conducted with misplaced passions and are highly, intensely symbolic. Sexual activities often function as signifiers for personal and social apprehensions to which they have no intrinsic connection.”
Having these conversations will help us celebrate the diverse ways in which people express, and don’t feel inclined to express, their sexuality. And I hope that this week is something that we all can experience, together.
Samantha Lachman is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. Follow her on Twitter @SamLachman.